First, a near-fight. The the fight-back.
Long after the Clippers’ Matt Barnes and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka were ejected after a second-period scuffle, the Clippers stormed away on a 31-9 run and scored a 111-103 victory over the Thunder Wednesday night at Staples Center.
In a heated matchup between two teams with designs on deep playoff runs, the Clippers closed the third quarter in a rush and stood their ground without Barnes to win their eighth consecutive home game and ostensibly deliver an early-season message.
The teams meet again a week from Thursday in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won all three games in the series last season.
“You could see both teams had a lot of interest in winning this game,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. I love games like this because their nice, they’re fun to be in. You can learn about your team.”
“That we can fight back,” he said. “The first three minutes, four minutes of the game we looked great and then when they made their run, we caved in a little bit, we gave in to their intensity. They were into our bodies, they were the more physical team.”
Chris Paul became the first player since Magic Johnson in 1990-91 to open the season with nine games of 10-plus points and 10-plus assists. Paul finished with 14 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds, Blake Griffin had 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers.
Jamal Crawford came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers and score 20 points for the Clippers, who had six players reach double figures.
DeAndre Jordan had 15 points and nine rebounds and J.J. Redick also had 15 points.
Kevin Durant, the league’s scoring leader, had 33 points and 10 assists for the Thunder, who had won all four games since Russell Westbrook returned from knee surgery. Westbrook had 19 points and 10 assists.
Barnes and Ibaka were ejected after they scuffled just after Griffin and Ibaka got tangled up under the basket after Griffin was fouled by Thabo Sefolosha. Just after the two untangled their arms, Barnes arrived and gave a two-hand shove to Ibaka.
As players rushed in to restore order, Ibaka appeared to cock his arm with his fist clenched.
Of course, Ibaka and Griffin already have a history. Ibaka was fined last season for delivering a groin shot to Griffin.
During the third quarter, Barnes tweeted: “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these (guys)! All this (stuff) does is cost me money.”
Rivers saw the tweet before he met the media.
“You want to stick up for your teammates, that’s what you do,” Rivers said. “Obviously you don’t want to get anybody thrown out. I don’t want Ibaka to get thrown out and I absolutely don’t want Matt Barnes to get thrown out. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates.
“Listen, I think he’s very emotional, down that he got thrown out, so I get that part. The choice of words, obviously – that’s a word that I’m not a fan of in all venues.’
Was he calling out his teammates?
“No, I doubt it,” Rivers said.
J.J. Redick stuck by his teammate’s side.
“Matt is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Redick said. “When I played with him in 2010 in Orlando – I’ve been telling people that for the last three years. I don’t know what he meant by it. I know what his intent is for his teammates and I’ll leave it at that.”
Barnes, no stranger to the tough-guy role, helped rekindle rekindle an issue that dogged the Clippers last season, that they were too quick to lose their temper.
And there was an undercard, too. Thunder rookie center Steven Adams, a New Zealand native from the University of Pittsburgh, worked out during the summer at the Clippers’ training facility in Playa Vista and reportedly got under the skin of Griffin more than once.
Adams, who started in the absence of Kendrick Perkins, didn’t shy away from physical play from the outset.
The Thunder took a 62-53 halftime lead but the Clippers, sparked by Griffin and Redick, raced to an 83-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter. During the run that eventually gave the Clippers a 13-point lead, the Thunder went 9:10 without a field goal.
By that point Griffin had 16 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead the Clippers and 15 with two 3-pointers.
Not lost was the fact that with Westbrook rounding into form after knee surgery, OKC is looking more like the team that reached the NBA Finals in 2011-12.
Through three quarters, Durant had 24 points. The Clippers, who opened the game with an 8-0 run, were left chasing the Thunder, who built a 14-point lead in the second quarter, throughout.
Ibaka had 13 when he left.
First, a near-fight. The the fight-back.